The Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, yesterday, ran into murky waters in the Senate, for allegedly allocating N42 billion public fund to a private company in the 2019 budget of the ministry.
The Senate Committee on Trade and Investment uncovered the Special Economic Zone Company (Nigeria Sez Investment Company Limited) enlisted for N42 billion appropriation from the 2019 budget proposals by the Ministry, when the minister appeared before it to defend the 2019 budget. Consequent upon this discovery, which piqued members of the committee, the lawmakers rejected the N15.633 billion 2019 budget proposals the Ministry presented to the committee for approval. The minister had, in the course of presentation on the 2018 budget performance and 2019 proposals to the committee chaired by Senator Sabo Mohammed (APC, Jigawa North West), tabled a document containing 2019 budget proposals for all agencies under his ministry. However, after his presentation, the chairman of the committee referred him to Item 2 on page 7 of the document, which has N42.091 billion budgetary allocation for Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company not known to be one of the 17 agencies under the Ministry. The minister, in his response, said the company was established through Presidential initiative and was given approval at Cabinet meeting in May 2018. He said: “One of the areas that this government has focused on is infrastructure. The second area is industrialization and the two have something in common.
“If the government tries to do it alone, it would be extremely tasking. So the President directed that we should bring other partners that can combine with whatever monies we have to build world class infrastructure which led to the establishment of the company in partnership with other investors.” Again, when asked to throw light on the ownership of the company, the minister said that it was the Federal Government and other shareholders to which the committee chairman proved him wrong. According to the chairman of the committee, a document obtained by them from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) containing information on how the company was registered, indicated that the company’s name is Nigeria Sez Investment Company Limited and not Nigeria Special Economic Zone Company as listed in the documents presented by the minister. “Ownership of the company, as clearly stated in the document obtained from CAC on the 26th of last month, designated as Directors Dr. Bakari Wadinga, Mr. Olufemi Edun and Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi.
“The document clearly states that the company is a private company and that liability of the members are limited by share which is also shown, gives Federal Government 25% and 75% to the private individuals,” he said. The minister, who was jolted by the direction the committee took the matter, made spirited efforts to convince the chairman and members of the committee that the initiative was driven by the Federal Government, but they all declared that the process of putting it up “is misnomer and nothing, but financial ambush to Nigeria.” Accordingly, the lawmakers directed the minister to forward detailed written explanation on how the company got into appropriation list, its management staff, list of its staff strength and statement of account before they could think of considering the 2019 budget proposals of the ministry.